You don’t really own a dog, you live with one. You live with wet noses, happy wags and unrestrained love. This brevity of our being is revisited courtesy of celebrated poet Mary Oliver in the trailing lines.
In her emotionally eloquent poetry collection Dog Songs, Mary Oliver brings the sheer gentleness and genius of her craft all over again. The Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning poet has paw prints hopping through the pages. What better way to show how simple life is if we let it be. What we own and what owns us.
In these poems of love, longing and grief, Mary Oliver writes about his dog Percy while there are others about different lessons from dogs. Dog Songs celebrates dogs Oliver encountered and was affectionate with and shows how integral they were to the poet’s daily life. Dog Songs showcases the power and depth of the human-animal exchange, a perspective with extraordinary vision.
Mary Oliver Dog Songs
“The Sweetness of Dogs”
… Thus, we sit, myself
thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
leans against me and gazes up into
my face. As though I were just as wonderful
as the perfect moon.
“A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you do not, therefore, own her, as you do not own the rain, or the trees, or the laws which pertain to them …
A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know almost nothing. . .”
— Mary Oliver
Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honour as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs?
LITTLE DOG’S RHAPSODY IN THE NIGHT
He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough
he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.
“Tell me you love me,” he says.
“Tell me again.”
Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.
In ‘School’, Mary’s recitation on the impermanence of love and loss is as profound as it is simple:
You’re like a little wild thing
That was never sent to school.
Sit, I say, and you jump up.
Come, I say, and you go galloping down the sand
To the nearest dead fish
With which you perfume your sweet neck.
It is summer.
How many summers does a little dog have?
Run, run Percy.
This is our school.
“And it is exceedingly short, his galloping life. Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also. It is almost a failure of will, a failure of love, to let them grow old—or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give.”
―Mary Oliver, Dog Songs
Mary Oliver passed away in January 2019. She was a lifelong dog lover, whose poems almost always wandered into them. The most famous of them being the ones featuring ‘Percy’, a dog whom she rescued.